SEO v Content Marketing: What’s the difference?


SEO and Content Marketing go hand-in-glove. They are two distinct, yet interrelated marketing techniques; each a complex subject matter in itself. Yet, to succeed at one, it pays to understand the other.

SEO v Content Marketing: What's the difference?

What is SEO?

SEO is the process of making your products and services discoverable online. It’s how you entice search engines to list your offerings where customers can easily find them.

SEO is pretty sweeping in its scope and involves elements of information technology (IT), design, copywriting, and public relations (PR). A few of the processes and procedures involved in SEO include:

  • Making sure your website functions well and loads quickly (IT)
  • Structuring your website so it is easy it is to navigate (web design)
  • Filling your website with relevant information your audience enjoys (copywriting)
  • Demonstrating your website’s authority by earning links from other websites (PR)

Since my expertise is primarily content marketing, I asked Search Engine Marketing Consultant and author of the Cranked SEO blog Perry Bernard to contribute to this post. He explains SEO this way:

Search Engine Optimization is the science of writing, coding and sharing your website content in a strategic way so as to win approval from search engines and get better search engine rankings than your rank competitors.

If you’re interested in learning the ins-and-outs of SEO I recommend visiting Cranked SEO.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is a way of promoting your products and services without being annoying about it. It involves creating content your customers find informative, entertaining, or both. In this way, you position your brand as a friendly, helpful entity rather than a pain-in-the-@$$ salesperson.

Of course, the term “content” is aggravatingly non-specific. That’s because it may comprise:

  • Vlogs
  • Ebooks
  • Slideshares
  • Whitepapers
  • Magazines
  • Books
  • Music
  • Infographics
  • Photography
  • Reports
  • Surveys
  • Newsletters
  • Microsites
  • Or apps

The most widespread and familiar form of content marketing, however, is blogging.

Where Content Marketing and SEO intersect

SEO V Content Marketing SignpostSEO and content marketing have a symbiotic relationship. SEO needs content in order to rank and content marketing needs SEO to achieve sustainable promotion. This is how, and why, the lines between the two get blurred.

SEO providers understand that it takes good (preferably excellent) content in order to rank well in the search engines. As Perry put it:

If you are doing SEO without content marketing, then you’re not really doing the SEO needed to dominate the market. Yes, it’s possible to do some SEO without creating and sharing new content, but it will never be market-leading and may well end up getting penalised by search engines.”

This is why you will find SEO companies who offer content production as part of their services.

Meanwhile, content marketers understand that no matter how great your content is, it’s not doing you any good if no one sees it. SEO is the least intrusive and most sustainable form of content promotion there is. It puts your solution in front of customers at the very moment they are actively searching for it.

This is why you will find content marketers offering SEO services and advice.

SEO v Content Marketing Providers: Who should I hire?

It’s not really a question of one vs the other. Ideally, you will have both an SEO and a content marketing expert on your marketing team.

Of course, hiring one person or company to do both seems convenient, but a word of caution: both SEO and content marketing are disciplines that require significant skill to execute well. So unless you are hiring a very large (very expensive) marketing firm, you’re better off hiring individual specialists.

Keeping up with the state of affairs is a full-time job and then some. Even top level (and I mean world-class) experts can’t keep up and will never ever know it all.” – Perry Bernard, Cranked SEO

Where should I start with SEO and content marketing?

Content Marketing ReviewYour first priority should always be to create amazing content. And to prove I’m not just pushing my own services, here’s what the SEO expert has to say about it:

It’s simple: Create great content first and foremost. Make it better than the sites you need to compete against for rank. More volume, better quality, more pages… Ideal content for SEO is content that answers user queries. This also happens to be the content that people want to read, and if they want to read it, they might also want to share it [so in that regard] for the most part SEO = Content Marketing. It’s only the starting point though… Breaking down SEO into core elements, here’s how I would weight it: Content Marketing: 1/3, Technical SEO 1/3, Links and Crawl 1/3. And without the balance of the other 2/3 of SEO even the best content won’t rank.”

And if you are working with limited resources, beware of low-cost alternatives…

SEO on a low budget is often much worse than doing nothing, because you might hire poorly-skilled practitioners who may well be 4 years behind in their knowledge.”

What you can expect from SEO and content marketing

If you are looking for a quick fix (a 30-90 day return) then neither SEO nor content marketing is really right for you.

Both of these marketing techniques build momentum over time and you may not see significant returns for six months to a year (maybe even longer if there is an insufficient investment). But unlike advertisements—which are here today, forgotten tomorrow—SEO and content marketing will pay dividends well into the future… So the work you do today could still be adding to your overall marketing strategy months and years from now.

The key to success is to be strategic about your implementation. Get your SEO provider and your content strategist involved early in your planning process. Bring them on board before you start a major website development project or large marketing campaign. That way they can help guide you and keep you from having to come back and fix things later on.

My best advice to a business owner starting on this is: be prepared to look at SEO and content marketing strategy BEFORE you build the website. Reverse engineering always costs more.

There is no magic, no instant fix, very few if any tricks.

The awesome thing about SEO is that once your site gets momentum in organic search, it can sustain that for months or even years with less investment.” – Perry Bernard

What to look for in an SEO

I asked Perry what he would recommend you look for in their SEO provider. Here’s his answer in full:

Ideally, they should have examples of SEO implementation that resulted in business success for others – but that’s often protected as privileged information by the property rights of the business owner. Those SEO people that say ‘we grew the traffic by 1057%’ are usually only able to say that because it started from next to zero. It’s not hard to get amazing growth figures from a website that’s doing poorly. It’s usually much harder to get 10.5% growth from a website that’s already doing well – and that’s the kind of story you want your SEO agency to be able to tell you about. If all they say are ‘we reduced the bounce rate’ or ‘we got them more pageviews,’ or ‘we got them to Google page 1 for 3 keywords’ – then these are probably not experienced professionals. Be more interested in statements like ‘we increased the monthly revenue via the Google organic channel’ and ‘organic click market share increased by 30% due to increased keyword performance on Google page 1 from 30 keywords to over 100 keywords.’ Be prepared to learn enough about this so you understand the basics of this sort of data.”

What to look for in a content marketer

On the content marketing end, be wary of any provider offering large volumes of content at ridiculously low cost. If you’re paying less than $.10 per word, you’re dealing with a content mill that values quantity over quality (no matter what their marketing says).

A better option is to hire a boutique marketing firm or work with your content writer directly. I’ve written a short ebook on how to find the right writer for you, so be sure to check that out.

Ideally, you’ll select a content marketer who doesn’t just produce content but can also advise you on how the content fits into your larger marketing scheme. They should understand the basic principles of SEO, social media marketing, lead generation, and your sales funnel. This means that as with SEO, you’ll need a foundational understanding of content marketing yourself in order to be a good judge of prospective providers.

If you’d like to learn more about content marketing you can read my blog and follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.


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